By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Dressed in well-worn, mismatched clothing and speaking in a gruff, truncated voice, “Ron” spoke at Holy Family Church to a group of middle-school students from All Saints Catholic School. Some laughed. One thought he was a hobo. Many thought he was homeless.
Removing the worn jacket and revealing himself as keynote speaker John Donahue Grossman, he told the students in a clear voice that “Underneath the shaky voice is a person who deserves dignity and respect as our Catholic teaching tells us.”
As part of a parish renewal co-sponsored by Holy Family and St. Anthony parishes in Davenport Nov. 23-25, the Catholic motivational speaker and retreat director from Chicago spoke several times to groups of adults and students. To students at All Saints and Assumption High School (Davenport), he spoke about seeing Jesus in all people. He encouraged adults at five parish seminars to identify their strengths and weaknesses and put faith into action.
Roberta Pegorick, Holy Family’s religious education director, said she and Sister Judy Herold, SSND, St. Anthony’s pastoral associate and religious education director, had worked nearly two years to bring Grossman to Davenport after hearing him speak at a catechist service. It marks the first occasion in which the two parishes have planned a joint parish renewal. Sr. Herold said, “I thought the two parishes worked together so well!”
Grossman urged the All Saints students to start looking past appearances not only with the less fortunate, but with their peers. When he asked the students to raise their hands if they had been made fun of before, nearly every hand shot up. “We make fun of people we don’t understand. When we get to know that person, it changes everything. … You might find a human being who deserves your love and respect and maybe even your friendship,” he said.
Everyone — adults included — make hurtful judgments from time to time; he asked the crowd to be free with apologies and stick up for those being teased. “It becomes contagious. … It only takes one person to stand up.”
All Saints Principal Jeanne Von Feldt said Grossman’s message “hit home” for students of the diverse school. “You could see the emotion in many of our students, both boys and girls.”
In addition to the speeches for the two Davenport schools, he gave a total of five talks between Holy Family and St. Anthony parishes with the theme “Feeding the hungers of our lives.”
In one talk, he discussed how each Gospel writer saw Jesus in a different way. Because the writers expressed different dimensions of Jesus’ works and personality, it is easier for Christians to find ways to relate to Jesus, he said. In another talk, he asked the audience to inventory the areas of their lives which get in the way of living out a faith in Jesus through words and action. He offered a presentation on healing through faith, accompanied by the anointing of the sick at Holy Family Church. He finished the series with a talk on discipleship.
Grossman admitted being worried about attendance as the week began; a snowstorm dropping several inches of snow had affected the Davenport area. On the first full day of seminars Nov. 24, 70 people attended the morning session at Holy Family and 150 attended the evening session at St. Anthony. “I couldn’t believe the turnout we had despite the mess,” he exclaimed.
Sr. Herold said attendance grew throughout the week, with 300 attending the final evening. She said some students had been so inspired by the school talks that they attended the evening sessions, too. Additionally, she said the talks brought in guests from other local parishes. “It was just remarkable.”
Pegorick said, “He was a phenomenal speaker … it was just what our community needed to ignite their passion for the faith. It was a blessing to be a part of it.”
Diane Lannan, a Holy Family parishioner, attended all of the talks and most appreciated a daily prayer Grossman shared with the audience: “It’s a good day to do great things for the glory of God.” Overall, she said the conference made her look at herself in a new light and consider how to put faith into action.
Diane Stanger, another Holy Family parishioner, also attended each talk, including the one given to All Saints students. “He has good storytelling. …I really got a lot of out the students’ talk. What he had to tell the kids is phenomenal.”
Grossman had one hope for all people who attended a seminar, young or old: “I’d love it if everyone walked away knowing that they are the beloved sons and daughters of God.”